Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Roman Experiment

There are three kinds of people in the world, politically speaking.

Firstly: Those who believe that the greater good is accomplished by reducing governmental power.

Secondly: Those who believe that the greater good is accomplished by increasing governmental power.

And thirdly, those who are just in it for themselves, who disguise themselves in whatever cloak of political rhetoric they need in order to achieve and cling to power.

Conservatives, at least of the United States type, align with the first theory. Different labels may be put upon proponents of limited government elsewhere.
Liberals (again speaking of the U.S.), align with the second.

At times, people of both the first or second persuasion charge each other with evil motivation. In reality, both of the first two types are, by and large, good people, trying to make the world a better place.

True evil belongs to that third type, which includes horrible human beings such as Pol Pot of Cambodia or Kim Jong Il of North Korea. I read that Kim has now thrown off all pretense of leading a communist utopia and instead adopted the motto of the old Roman emperors: Take care of the army and don’t worry about anyone else.

The critical problem with increasing governmental power as a means to achieve greater good, is that it is the surest way to empower that evil third type. Lenin’s Soviet framework, built upon the idealist Marx’s vision – Marx, who never built a gulag or oppressed anyone – was the perfect structure to support the monster Stalin.

We can argue about whether other notorious world leaders, past and present, were trying to build better societies or simply enjoying the spoils of power. I speak of Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Hugo Chavez, Nicolai Ceausescu, Saddam Hussein, etc. But can anyone seriously argue that any of the above preached, or preach, less government rather than more?

What has fascinated me in my study of the late Roman Empire, is the history that we don’t learn in school and how it relates to the above.

How much this entity, which survived for roughly five hundred years (if you count from the rise of Julius Caesar to the sack by Alaric and don’t count all the previous years of the Republic or the Byzantine Empire that struggled on in the east after the fall of the Eternal City), was a constantly changing, conscious experiment in human government.

How various Roman leaders, from Augustus to Diocletian, tried different and creative ways to balance power and address the needs of the people. How some of the most reviled of its rulers, such as Nero, actually started out with apparent good intentions but then succumbed to paranoia or power lust … because there was, ultimately, no one to stand in their way.

How gradually a hard-working society of independent-minded, mostly agrarian folk, with a relatively democratic system of leadership, degenerated into a an entertainment-crazed, urban mob demanding more and more hand-outs from their leadership, a mob which ignored national defense and a leadership which constantly added more and more planks to its pulpit of power and rarely, if ever, removed any of the accretions once each spasm of grumbling over their illegality had ceased.

We are fools to ignore the lessons that Rome taught by long and painful experience. Fools to think that world leaders today are cut from different cloth than the ones who once wore the purple toga. Fools to think that human nature ever changes.


Ela said...


Ela said...

your quietness seems like you are out of this world.
so quiet
Peace to all!

Ela said...

Dear ECD
I wish you the best in the year 2010 and beyond. May your plans come true.
Happy New Year!